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2008 Team Report: Denver Broncos

Quarterbacks

Starter: Jay Cutler
Backup(s): Patrick Ramsey

Starting QB: Last season was Jay Cutler's first full campaign as the starter for the Broncos, and like most first-year starters, Jay had his good and bad games. In his first eight games of 2007, Cutler threw eight TDs and eight INTs. In the last eight games, he threw 12 TDs with only six INTs. In the last half of the season, he did cut down on his mistakes, but he could still have a bad game like the Week 16 game against the Chargers. Cutler was recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which explains his big weight-loss during the 2007 campaign. With knowledge, he is now better able to control his weight, which will allow him to be strong all season. Both on and off the field Cutler is taking over the leadership role with his team. He even ruffled some feathers by calling out Brandon Marshall for the accident that led to Brandon's arm injury. Cutler isn't fazed by the naysayers. The improved offensive line, the new weapons at the WR position and an even greater sense of purpose should propel Cutler to an elite season in 2008.

Backup QB: The Broncos have a capable backup in Patrick Ramsey. The former first-round pick gives the Broncos great insurance in case of a Jay Cutler injury. Last season when Cutler was banged up in the Lions game, Ramsey came in and went a very respectable 29-of-46 passes for 242 years with one touchdown and one interception. Ramsey seems comfortable in the offense and could lead the team effectively while managing the game efficiently.

Running Backs

Starter: Selvin Young
Backup(s): Michael Pittman, Andre Hall, Ryan Torain [PUP]
Fullback(s): Peyton Hillis [R]

Starting RB: The stars are aligning for Selvin Young. First, Travis Henry was released. Then, promising rookie Ryan Torain broke his elbow and will miss a big chunk of the season. Realistically, Selvin Young will have every opportunity to emerge as the lead back; regardless of whether he's up to the task or not. While Henry disappointed in 2007, Young showed flashes of brilliance. Young's running style fits perfectly in the zone-blocking scheme as evidenced by his 5.2 YPC and his 729 rushing yards, however, Young cannot be relied upon as an every-down back. He will break long runs on draws and gadget plays, but he will also lose yards on several plays in a row.

Backup RBs: Young was also banged up at times last year which led to an opportunity for Andre Hall. Hall is a small back (5'9", 205 pounds) like Young, but he was the fastest of all the backs in 2007. Despite his size, Hall has been getting work as a short yardage and goal line specialist. Ryan Torain looks like the real deal, but is lost for a good chunk of this season with a broken elbow. The team added former Buccaneer Michael Pittman, and he'll see time as both a 3rd down specialist and as a fullback in two back sets.

Fullback: Peyton Hillis, the seventh-round pick from Arkansas, was a very capable blocker for Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. Peyton is not only a great blocker, but an accomplished receiver. He led the Razorbacks in receptions for two of his four seasons.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal [R]
Backups: Brandon Stokley, Darrell Jackson, Keary Colbert

Starting WRs: Brandon Marshall proved in 2007 that he could be an elite playmaker in this league. He was targeted an average of more than 10 times per game and did not disappoint. Marshall is a force on deep patterns and underneath routes. His ability to run after the catch is uncanny because he moves like a much smaller WR. After a freak arm accident in March, there were concerns about Marshall's ability to recover in time for the season. Those worries were put to rest when Marshall showed up to camp ready to practice. He was suspended for one game (reduced from 3 initially) but that should keep him from putting up top-10 numbers this year; he's that good. Opposite Marshall is going to be rookie Eddie Royal. The Broncos targeted Eddie Royal before the draft and were able to select him in the second round. Royal has good route-running ability and also brings to the table fantastic skills as a returner.

Backup WRs: Darrell Jackson had a down year in San Francisco; putting it mildly. The Broncos didn't let that stop them from signing Jackson in April. He has a ton of experience in the West Coast Offense from his days with Mike Holmgren and the Seahawks. Denver hopes that Jackson can use the experience to regain his form from just a couple of seasons ago. He's a skilled runner after the catch, but was prone to dropped passes even when he was healthy and at his peak. Brandon Stokley is the perfect slot receiver. The Broncos were very happy with his production last year and expect his stats to be even better if he stays healthy for a full 16 games. Keary Colbert, another free agent looking for a new lease on life, made the team as the final WR; which means he'll be hard pressed to see much playing time barring significant injuries.

Tight Ends

Starters: Daniel Graham
Backups: Tony Scheffler, Nate Jackson

Daniel Graham's first year with the Broncos can be summed up by the phrase "more of the same." It's safe to say that 246 yards and two TDs is not exactly what the Broncos envisioned. Graham blocks like a lineman but needs to become more of a factor in the red zone. His yardage doesn't have to take a giant leap, but it would be best if he scored about six TDs. Tony Scheffler was targeted more than twice as many times as Graham and posted some nice stats. Scheffler isn't much of a blocking factor, but he is great as a downfield threat and knows how to get open in the soft spot of the zone. It also helps that Scheffler is Jay Cutler's best friend; they seem to have a mind-meld on the field. We should expect Scheffler to put up similar numbers to his 2007 performance if he can stay healthy. Nate Jackson has been a Bronco for a few years but didn't score his first TD until last year. Jackson is used on special teams almost exclusively.

Place Kicker

Matt Prater : Heading into the camp, Prater remains the lone candidate to replace Jason Elam. He has a very strong leg. Last year on kickoffs he averaged 68.7 yards and had five touchbacks in just four games. Accuracy is the concern. In college he averaged only 67.6% on field goals, including 65.4% (17 of 26) his senior year. With Atlanta last year, he missed 3 of 4 field goal attempts, including one from 26 yards. He was cut after two games.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Eddie Royal; Glenn Martinez; Andre Hall; Selvin Young; Michael Pittman

The Broncos tried just about everyone on kickoff returns the last few years and many are no longer with the team. During the latter part of last year, WR Glenn Martinez (15 returns, 22.0 avg.) and RB Andre Hall (19 returns, 25.0 avg.) handled kickoff returns. Denver attempted to address their return woes by taking WR Eddie Royal in the second round of this year's draft. Last year he averaged 22.6 yard on 14 returns for Virginia Tech. The return specialist role will be his to lose during the preseason. Fourth round draft pick CB Jack Williams occasionally returned kickoffs at Kent State. Free agent acquisition RB Michael Pittman led Tampa Bay in kickoff returns in 2006 (39 returns, 22.2 avg.).

Punt Returners: Eddie Royal; Glenn Martinez; Dre' Bly; Champ Bailey; Selvin Young

Although Glenn Martinez did well on punts last year (14 return, 11.2 avg., 1 TD), Eddie Royal's speed and college success makes him the frontrunner. Last year Royal averaged 14.7 yards on 31 punt returns and scored twice. CB Dre' Bly returned a couple punts during his time with Detroit and St. Louis, and had two returns for Denver last year. CB Champ Bailey has experience returning punts, and is available if needed. Selvin Young returned two punts for scores while at Texas. The Broncos have been mired near the bottom of the fantasy return rankings the last four years (26th, 29th, 31st, and 26th).

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Ryan Clady [R], LG Ben Hamilton, C Tom Nalen, RG Chris Kuper, RT Ryan Harris
Key Backups: OT Erik Pears, C Casey Wiegmann, OT Tyler Polumbus

Commentary coming soon.

Team Defense

Much was expected of this unit heading into the '07 season but key injuries up front and a failed experiment at MLB led to a 30th-ranked run defense and a step in the wrong direction. Denver finished 28th in scoring and in the middle of the pack in sacks despite having poured money and draft picks into the DE positions. The seventh-ranked pass defense and a penchant for creating turnovers made them a solid fantasy backup but unfortunately a lot of owners were counting on them for more. The club used free agency and the trade market to address needs in a front seven that could have as many as four new starters. D.J. Williams wasn't the answer at MLB and will move to the weak side while free agents Boss Bailey and Niko Koutouvides step in at strong and middle linebacker, respectively. The club traded for road-grader Dwayne Robertson, who should go a long way toward bolstering the run defense. The return from injury of DEs Ebenezer Ekuban and last year's top pick Jarvis Moss should put more pop in the pass rush. The secondary is solid as they come and all the holes up front have been addressed. If everyone stays healthy this unit could step up and do the things that were expected of them a year ago. Draft them as a backup but don't be surprised if they finish among the top 12.

Defensive Line

Starters: LDE John Engelberger, LDT Marcus Thomas, RDT Alvin McKinley, RDE Elvis Dumervil
Backups: DE Ebenezer Ekuban, DE Tim Crowder, DE Jarvis Moss, DE Kenny Peterson, DT Josh Mallard

Starting DL: The four listed above are starters in name only. None are definite every down players. Engelberger and Dumervil got the bulk of the playing time in 2007, but Engelberger sat in passing situations and Dumervil sometimes sat on running downs. If Ebenezer Ekuban and Jarvis Moss are healthy, they will team with Tim Crowder to form a deep end rotation. Engelberger will still see a fair amount of time on early downs as an underrated run defender. Expect the Broncos to continue to move Dumervil around to maximize his pass-rushing potential. Thomas, one of three players drafted in the team's overhaul of the line last year, and McKinley return as the starting tackles. Both have the potential to be effective two way players. The Broncos are hoping Thomas continues to grow into a penetrating force against the run while avoiding off-field concerns like his March arrest after cocaine and a handgun were found in his car during a traffic stop.

Backup DL: Ekuban and Moss are hoping to return as effective members of the end rotation after both suffered season-ending injuries in 2007. Ekuban, who had been very productive as a versatile end-tackle player in 2006, ruptured his Achilles tendon during a preseason game last year and didn't play a down. Moss, after an inconsistent but promising start, broke a bone in his lower leg in practice and didn't play after Week 6. The Broncos re-signed Ekuban this offseason in the hopes that he can provide a stabilizing veteran influence and solid all-around rotational play. Moss believes he's fully recovered and expects to have a bigger role in 2008. The Broncos also have second year end Tim Crowder, who was the most productive of the three rookie picks last year. Crowder may work his way into the bulk of the snaps on the closed end this year. Though Peterson filled in admirably last year, he may be the odd man out if the rest of the line stays healthy this preseason. Mallard fills out the DT rotation.

Linebackers

Starters: SLB Boss Bailey, MLB Nate Webster, WLB D.J. Williams
Backups: LB Niko Koutouvides, LB Jamie Winborn, LB Louis Green

Starting LBs: After finishing the league 30th in run defense last year, the Broncos made major changes to their linebacking corps. Gone are defensive coordinator Jim Bates and starting WLB Ian Gold. Williams, who finished second in the league with 141 total tackles, is being moved from the middle to the weak side. Bailey comes over from Detroit to replace Nate Webster for the starting SLB role and, if he can avoid the health problems that have often plagued him, should be an effective all-around player. Webster moves inside where his lack of coverage skills should hopefully be obscured a bit. Webster is a heady player and should be well suited to make the line calls.

Backup LBs: If Nate Webster struggles in the middle, free agent signee Niko Koutouvides will be ready to step in. Koutouvides spent much of his first four seasons in the league as a valuable member of the Seattle special teams unit while stuck behind a very good starting linebacking group. Jamie Winborn impressed in limited time at WLB late last year, but has never been able to stay healthy when asked to play every down.

Defensive Backs

Starters: LCB Champ Bailey, SS Marquand Manuel, FS Marlon McCree, RCB Dre' Bly
Backups: CB Domonique Foxworth, CB Karl Paymah, SS Hamza Abdullah

Starting DBs: Bailey and Bly return as one of the league's premier veteran cornerback duos. Both excel in man coverage but have the ball skills to play zone well, which the Broncos will use more often than they did last year under Bates. The safety positions underwent a seismic shift in the preseason as long-time Bronco John Lynch was released and signed with New England. Marlon McCree, a former divisional rival, steps into Lynch's enormous shoes. McCree is somewhat of a journeyman, but has shown the ability to make big plays in recent seasons in Carolina and San Diego. Hamza Abdullah, the other incumbent, was displaced by Marquand Manuel. Abdullah and Lynch are atop the depth chart.

Backup DBs: Foxworth and Paymah are among the better third and fourth corners in the league. Both have swing corner-safety skills. The Broncos let Nick Ferguson leave in free agency which leaves Hamza Abdullah as the only viable backup at safety.

Last modified: 2008-08-30 22:22:30